New legislation – the Wales Act 2017 – which has just received the Royal Assent formally devolves responsibility for water and sewerage policy in Wales to the devolved Welsh government.
The Act replaces UK ministers’ power to intervene on water issues with a new statutory agreement between the two governments, a so-called ‘Water Protocol’. UK ministers have called the move a “clear break with the past and another landmark in the history of Welsh devolution”. The detail of the protocol is currently the subject of discussions between the two administrations.
UK minister, Guto Bebb, told MPs: “we are absolutely clear that the protocol will have teeth. Both governments will be subject to a duty to act in accordance with the new agreement, and once it is in place, both will need to agree any changes to it.
The agreement will also need to include a process that both governments sign up to for resolving any disagreements. The new arrangements will need to be negotiated, and that may take some time, but the bill, as amended in the House of Lords, ensures that the secretary of state’s water intervention powers can be repealed once an agreement is formally entered into.”
The Act imposes a duty on UK and Welsh ministers to have regard to consumers on either side of the border when exercising functions relating to water resources, water supply or water quality.
The minister has insisted that the issue of direct accountability between the regulator Ofwat and Welsh government ministers will be the subject of negotiations over the protocol.